400 War Refugees Safely Lodged in Churches in Myanmar’s Volatile Kachin State

2018-05-09
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Displaced Kachin residents board a truck after crossing the Malikha River on a ferry to escape fighting between the Kachin Independence Army and Myanmar government troops near Myitkyina in northern Myanmar's Kachin state, April 26, 2018.
Displaced Kachin residents board a truck after crossing the Malikha River on a ferry to escape fighting between the Kachin Independence Army and Myanmar government troops near Myitkyina in northern Myanmar's Kachin state, April 26, 2018.
AFP

More than 400 Kachin civilians displaced by fighting between the Myanmar army and an ethnic armed group arrived on Wednesday in two townships in northern Myanmar’s volatile Kachin state where they have taken temporary shelter in local churches.

They are part of the overall 4,000 civilians who have been driven out of their homes by clashes in the long-running conflict between the national army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of several ethnic militias with which the Myanmar government is trying to end decades of ethnic separatist civil wars and forge peace.

“According to our list, 423 IDPs [internally displaced persons] arrived in Myitkyina on May 8,” said Ganesh, the leader of a state Red Cross team helping the refugees. “We have more than 4,000 IDPs now in Myitkyina and Hpakant. We will help them as needed.”

The refugees are staying in churches in Dunbam and Lawa villages in Hpakant township and at a church in Naungnang village in Myitkyina township, he said.

State government officials have started rescue operations for those trapped in war zones, transporting them to safer places, as both the government military and the KIA are now allowing them to leave villages caught in the crossfire.

More than 200 IDPs arrived in Myitkyina on Tuesday evening after aid workers helped them escape ongoing hostilities.

And earlier this week, government authorities evacuated more than 150 residents from Magwe village to the subtownship of Karmine in Hpakant township in Mohnyin district, where they are being housed in temporary shelters or living with relatives in other towns.

Residents from villages in Injangyang, Tanaing, and Hpakant townships have been stranded with little food since April after fresh clashes erupted and government troops blocked access to roads in areas where fighting has taken place, preventing civilians from leaving to get supplies.

Many have sought shelter in jungles where they have no access to food and water.

State government officials have also been working on evacuating internally displaced persons trapped in Tanaing township, whose amber and gold mining region is controlled by the KIA, and transporting them to safe places.

The KIA is one of several militias with which the Myanmar government is trying to end decades of ethnic separatist civil wars and forge peace in the country through a series of peace negotiations launched in August 2016 by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the KIA’s political wing, has not signed the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement that eight of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armies inked in October 2015, with two more having joined since then.

Antiwar activist Aung Hmine San is escorted to court by an armed guard to face charges for violating Article 19 of Myanmar's Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law in central Myanmar's Mandalay, May 9, 2018.
Antiwar activist Aung Hmine San is escorted to court by an armed guard to face charges for violating Article 19 of Myanmar's Peaceful Assembly and Procession Law in central Myanmar's Mandalay, May 9, 2018. Credit: RFA
Antiwar activists fined

Meanwhile, three detained antiwar activists in Mandalay were formally charged on Wednesday in Chan Aye Tharzan Township Court for violating Article 19 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law.

The law allows public demonstrations only if organizers first obtain permission from local authorities.

Aung Hmine San, Daine Daung, and a third individual Poet Kalint were arrested on Tuesday for leading protesters on a march through town on May 6, calling for an end to the fighting in Kachin state and for the government to rescue IDPs trapped by clashes.

“As I don’t trust the country’s judicial service, I will not work with the court,” Aung Hmine San said. “I am not sure whether I will hire a lawyer or not, or whether I will answer if I am questioned by a judge.”

“I am not going to apply for bail as well,” he said. “We don’t believe that we violated anything. We believe that we were unjustly arrested because we have rights to freely express what we believe.”

Other protests calling on authorities to evacuate trapped locals in Kachin state and to end hostilities there have taken place in the towns of Yangon and Myitkyina and in Magwe region.

On Wednesday, a court in Myitkyina fined two Kachin youth leaders 30,000 kyats (U.S. $22) each for violating Article 19 by failing to obtain permission to stage a 700-strong street demonstration and a sit-in in the Kachin capital earlier this week, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.

The fines came after pressure from local authorities forced protesters to end their sit-in.

Also earlier this week, a police officer from the Kyauktada Township Police Station in Yangon filed a complaint against four activists for organizing an antiwar protest in the commercial capital.

Two other people who intended to march from Pyay township of south-central Myanmar’s Bago region to Myitkyina were arrested in Aunglan township of central Myanmar’s Magwe region while they were marching. Authorities charged them for violating Article 19, but released them on bail.

By Kyaw Myo Min and Khaymani Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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